Park Design

The Concept: “Three parks, like pearls on a string…”

Tanner Springs Park was one of three parks conceptualized by the landscape architectural firm of Peter Walker & Partners between Tenth and Eleventh Street in the River District in 1999 (presently called North Pearl District). They were designed for different functions yet related to each other, like “pearls on a string” in the Pearl District. The network of three parks conceptualized were Jamison Square Park for art and reflection, Tanner Springs Park for contemplation and nature viewing, and The Fields Park for picnicking and sports. The firm’s direction grew out of a collaboration of the Tanner Creek and Water Feature Steering Committee and City Council, with final input from a Project Steering Committee and two public workshops. The property was a partial donation from Hoyt Street Properties & Portland Development Commission using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Funds. 

The Design: Experimental, Historical and Sustainable

Tanner Springs Park was designed in 2003 by Atelier Dreiseitl (Germany), Green Works, P.C. (Portland), Portland Parks & Recreation, Portland Development Commission, and a project steering committee of public and private stakeholders. A series of community workshops were held between January and June 2003, and the park was named Tanner Springs Park in April 2005. The goal was to transform a contaminated city block (.92 acres) into a healthy urban green space for contemplation and reconnecting with nature. A recirculating experimental bioswale was designed to reference Couch Lake and Tanner Creek’s historical wetlands built with the rail and ship industry elements. The artistic and synergistic design incorporated historical reclamation and sustainability to make the project unique to Portland with a strong sense of place.

Legacy Habitat and Industrial Reclamation

The park design echos habitat existing before European settlement and now imperiled – oak savanna and upland nurtured by Americans that lived off the land and were sustainable stewards for over 500 generations. The naturally sloping characteristics of the park mimic the sloping of the Willamette Valley foothills. The water runnels and pond represent Couch Lake and Tanner Creek’s surrounding wetland that once occupied this area. 

Post settlement Portland’s rail and shipping industries played a significant role in the lives of Oregonians. Train rails and Belgian blocks were reclaimed and incorporated into the hardscape. The art wall comprises 368 undulating train rails set on end, 12 feet high along the east end of the park, and is 180 feet long. Fitted with cobalt-blue art glass integrating 99 pieces of fused glass inset with images of dragonflies, spiders, amphibians, and insects. The images were hand-painted by Herbert Dreiseitl directly onto Portland glass, then fused and melted to achieve the final stained glass effect. Belgian blocks from former ship ballasts and Portland streets create a textural walkway through the park and waterways.

Urban Sustainability

The park is a large bioswale designed to absorb excessive precipitation carrying heavy metals and pollutants from the urban environment’s impervious surfaces. To mitigate this, stormwater is channeled into the park. It is a closed system to keep out pollutants. Water is recirculated through ultraviolet light to reduce bacteria and algae.

Contemplation and Nature Viewing

Green spaces are important stepping stone habitats in urban centers providing settings for contemplation, wildlife viewing, wildlife photography, stewardship opportunities, and community science. In 2014 community science observations at Tanner Springs Park of the Flame Skimmer were significant data to aid regional ecologists in global warming trends.

Tanner Creek

Tanner Creek’s headwater is in the South West Hills and was diverted underground in the 1800s through North West Portland to the Willamette River. It runs about 20 feet below the pond’s bottom in Tanner Springs Park and out to the Willamette River. Tanner Creek was named for the tannery built by pioneer Daniel Lownsdale in 1845 that flowed into the shallow basin of Couch Lake.